How a new set of colourful, tactile books are aiming to transform the reading experience of the visually impaired.
A Dreaming Fingers book. Photo courtesy Karadi Tales
When you think of books in Braille, it’s likely that what comes to mind are plain white sheets embossed with dots. It’s hard to imagine a Braille book with vibrant, tactile images. Yet this is precisely the way in which a handful of people are trying to transform reading into a sensorial experience for the visually impaired. Exquisite henna reproductions of the architecture of a medieval palace, textures that bring alive Eric Carle’s children’s book, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and embossed sticky worms that help a toddler learn to count.
“One day I was watching a mehndi artist at work, and I thought why can’t I use the same artist and her technique of cone work to make a tactile illustration in a Braille book,” says Siddhant Shah, a heritage architect and consultant on making public spaces accessible to the impaired and challenged. This was last year, when Shah was working at the City Palace, Jaipur, on the Open Braille Guidebook for the Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II (MSMS II) Museum. The book was released in March.
Shah has always been vexed by the blandness of Braille books, which seldom try to engage visually impaired readers. “Accessibility doesn’t mean stop at creating a ramp within a building. One can use aesthetics in design principles to create accessibility too,” he says. So he and the MSMS II Museum team set about creating tactile illustrations of the paintings, objets d’art and architectural elements at the museum to bring them alive for a new audience. Especially striking is the reproduction in henna of the City Palace’s brass door.